Mandarin Immersion in San Francisco

Mandarin Immersion in San Francisco

I’ve written before about Speaking in Tongues, the excellent documentary that follows four children in language immersion classrooms in San Francisco. The film does an amazing job of countering arguments against bilingualism by showing moving portraits of four families who made the unconventional choice to educate their children in either Chinese or Spanish. I highly recommend the movie if you’re even faintly interested in immersion education or language-learning in general. It will be shown in the Bay Area on KQED in coming weeks. Check the schedule here.

San Francisco was a pioneer in language immersion education when the city opened the first Cantonese immersion classroom in the U.S. 26 years ago. Their model has now been copied all over the country. Now there is a debate ongoing about how to further expand the Mandarin immersion program, as students enter middle school. The BeyondChron blog sums it up:

Though the good news is that every immersion student will be guaranteed an immersion seat at the middle school level, successful implementation seemed to have been an afterthought. For Spanish Immersion students, for example, the new system would mean phasing out the oldest Spanish Immersion program at Hoover and simultaneously implementing programs at three new sites in 2011 (Denman, ISA, and Mann). For Mandarin Immersion, it will mean opening two different sites (Mann and Aptos) in two consecutive years, which (based on current enrollment of both programs) will serve less than 60 students per grade level until 2015. For the Cantonese Immersion program, there will be two sites, which five years from now will serve only 40-60 students each.
The result is that the resources are being diluted (finding properly credentialed qualified teachers is still an issue along with proper books and other supplementary stuff), programs are proposed to be started in schools that are not ready and some of the middle schools’ immersion programs would be very small.

The Mandarin Immersion Parents Council, run by parents of students in San Francisco’s immersion classrooms, had a meeting about the issue and posted notes on their (excellent) website. If you’re interested in the ins and outs of the SF immersion programs, they are the ones who know.

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